Salvatore Attardo
Table of contents

The conceptual field of ‘humor’ is broad and only few areas within it are well determined. Attempts at defining and subcategorizing areas within the field such as ‘humor’ vs. ‘comedy’ or ‘ridicule’ have by and large failed. Lexicographic studies have only highlighted the differences and fluidity of the classifications used by various languages (Attardo 1994: 2–7). The term ‘humor’ has emerged as technical term to be intended as covering anything that is (or may) be perceived as funny, amusing, or laughable. This does not preclude the possibility of establishing subcategorizations in certain specific areas, e.g., tendentious humor, or ‘genres’ such as puns, jokes, etc. It should be noted, however, that terms such as ‘pun’ and ‘joke’ are not technical terms and are ultimately fuzzy. On these grounds, some have challenged the possibility of providing a unitary account of humor (e.g., Ferro-Luzzi 1990). A case for an essentialist account of humor, and a refutation of the arguments against it, is presented in Attardo (1994). By and large, linguists (as well as scholars from most disciplines) have operated on the assumption that humor is universal (cf. Apte 1985).

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